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U.S. Commerce Deputy Secretary Don Graves Meets with Members of Multiple Sectors and Community-Led Organizations, Announces Funding for Puerto Rico, and Urges Participation in the Economic Census

From February 6-9, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves traveled to Puerto Rico to meet with members of academia, public policy, government, community-led organizations, and the private sector -- including leaders of the construction, manufacturing, banking segments -- to discuss the outcome of December’s Puerto Rico Economic Dialogue.

While in San Juan, the Deputy Secretary joined Puerto Rico Secretary of State Omar Marrero Diaz Lt. Governor Manuel Cidre, the Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce, and others to announce a $109 million Treasury Department SSBCI grant. The grant was awarded to the Puerto Rico Economic Development Bank to support access to capital for small and medium sized enterprises. He also announced a nearly $3 million National Telecommunications and Information (NTIA) Connecting Minority Communities (CMC) award to Universidad del Sagrado Corazón and issued a Proclamation to encourage businesses in Puerto Rico to participate in the 2022 Economic Census.

This trip marked the Deputy Secretary’s third visit to the archipelago in his capacity as the Biden-Harris Administration’s Puerto Rico Economic Growth Coordinator and his first trip since the inaugural Economic Dialogue with the Government of Puerto Rico, hosted by the White House in December of last year. The Economic Dialogue brought together the U.S. and Puerto Rico governments to endorse the implementation of a slate of actions and partnerships over the course of 2023. The slate is centered around four pillars: workforce development; investing in infrastructure, energy & resilience; building a diversified economy; and improving governance and data collection.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to helping Puerto Rico prosper, and the Economic Dialogue offered a platform for the U.S. and Puerto Rico to align on shared policy priorities that benefit all Puerto Rican communities and support the formulation of a comprehensive path for economic growth.”

On his first day, Deputy Secretary Graves met with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi and discussed the Commonwealth’s steady economic growth and the progress made since the Economic Dialogue. He also emphasized the Administration’s steadfast commitment to Puerto Rico and announced the establishment of a Puerto Rico Economic Development team at the Department of Commerce.

Later that day, Deputy Secretary Graves participated in a roundtable hosted by the Center for a New Economy (CNE) to discuss the specific needs of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) in Puerto Rico to unlock access to federal contracts. Specifically, the group addressed what tools or resources the federal government can extend and how to make Puerto Rico’s economic growth more robust and longer lasting with federal dollars.

On February 7, Graves traveled to the Aerospace Hub in Aguadilla and visited the Lufthansa Technik’s facilities, where training, maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for the aviation industry are provided. He later participated in a roundtable at the Honeywell Aerospace EMC Laboratory on the current Aerospace landscape. Back in 2014, then Vice President Biden, together with SelectUSA, were pivotal in raising awareness of Puerto Rico as an investment destination for what is today the Aerospace Hub.  

On February 8, Graves participated in a roundtable discussion at the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association -- Puerto Rico’s oldest and largest manufacturing trade association -- on how the federal government can help in terms of working capital, workforce training and retooling, and additional labor so that Puerto Rico’s manufacturing continues to grow.

Later, he hosted several roundtable discussions with Invest PR, farmers and members of the agriculture sector, the alternative finance community, and DDEC on building a diversified economy that could support the reconstruction of the island, one of the four pillars of the Economic Dialogue. Consistent with this goal,  Deputy Secretary Graves hosted a press conference and announced the Treasury Department has approved a proposal under the State Small Business Credit Initiative – or SSBCI – to grant Puerto Rico’s Economic Development Bank up to $109 million to support small and medium enterprises in Puerto Rico. This is part of a $10 billion program from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which is helping small businesses recover and helping start-ups and new small businesses take advantage of new opportunities so that they can grow and thrive.

Graves also announced that the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded Universidad del Sagrado Corazón nearly $3 million to expand educational instruction and remote learning opportunities, spur economic development, and create opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship by building the broadband and digital capacity at Sagrado. This grant is part of the NTIA’s Connecting Minority Communities Program, which is providing over $260 million to help minority serving institutions purchase broadband service and equipment, hire IT personnel, and create digital literacy programs.

To conclude the press conference, Graves also encouraged all businesses in Puerto Rico to participate in the 2022 Economic Census. Response in Puerto Rico is paramount to gain an accurate business count, particularly after the social changes suffered over the past years, including hurricanes, earthquakes, and migration.

“Each business that responds to the 2022 Economic Census is contributing to better data quality and better decisions-making for all businesses and communities across Puerto Rico,” said Graves. “Responses are due by March 15th and are required by law.”

Last year, Deputy Secretary Graves traveled to San Juan in April and August where he met with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi and announced the intent for the U.S. Government to partner with the Government of Puerto Rico in holding an economic dialogue in Washington D.C. He also announced his new role as the Administration’s Puerto Rico Economic Growth Coordinator. Read more about his trips here

The Biden-Harris Administration is investing unprecedented resources in Puerto Rico’s economic growth and is committed to working closely with partners across the archipelago—in communities and in the government, nonprofit, and private sectors—to ensure that growth is inclusive, resilient, and sustainable.